Of all the streets in Manhattan’s street grid, Broadway is the odd one out. It’s both the only street that goes diagonally across the borough above 14th Street and a street that has three completely different characters depending on where you are. If you’re above Columbus Circle, Broadway is a massive avenue, carrying 3 lanes of traffic in each direction up to the Bronx. If you’re below Union Square, it’s smaller, but still an important street down to the Battery. Finally, if you’re between Columbus Circle and Union Square, it’s anything but.
This last section, in particular, has become a consistent target for pedestrianization by livable streets advocates, who argue, in part, that as a consequence of previous pedestrianization projects in Times Square and Herald Square, it has become all but useless as a through street, and that pedestrianizing this stretch of Broadway would create a much needed improvement to pedestrian conditions in Midtown and the Flatiron District. Looking at these arguments more closely, you can definitely see where they’re coming from. If you were to stand along this stretch of Broadway, for instance, you would find that there isn’t a lot of traffic, which, considering that traffic is forced off at 47th and 35th Streets, isn’t a surprise. The argument that it would improve pedestrian conditions is also pretty sound. This largely hinges on the fact that, despite a few improvements here and there, 8th, 7th, and 6th Avenues still resemble avenues from the Robert Moses school of street design, with narrow sidewalks, very little bike amenities, and a hell of a lot of traffic lanes. Giving pedestrians their own space, then, would be a boon to walking conditions, with pedestrians being able to walk through Midtown and the Flatiron District without feeling cramped or claustrophobic.
These arguments, then, hold up really well. However, while I’m (obviously) in support of pedestrianizing this section of Broadway, I also firmly believe that much more could be done with Broadway as a whole. For instance, above Columbus Circle, Broadway is a street that’s dangerous enough for pedestrians to be classified as a Vision Zero priority corridor from Columbus Circle to the Bronx, with at least 10 intersections that are especially dangerous and, at times, deadly for pedestrians. Below ground isn’t much better, either above or below Columbus Circle. The BMT Broadway and IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Lines, two lines that are vital to the New York City Subway’s operation, are in dire need of upgrades, with their signal systems, in particular, being incredibly outdated and inadequate for the amount of riders they now see.
These are problems that must be addressed, and they can be dealt with expediently by combining pedestrian and subway fixes into one multi-phased project. So, with that in mind, here’s my idea to do just that. It’s called the Broadway Plan.
The Broadway Plan
This is a plan that addresses, as well as possible, all of the problems previously mentioned. Below ground, the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue and BMT Broadway Lines would get signal upgrades and, wherever necessary, station and structural rehabs between Union Square and 168th Street. Additionally, stations would be modified and/or reconstructed wherever possible to improve subway transfers, improve accessibility, and catch up with changing commuting trends. Above ground, Broadway would be completely pedestrianized from 17th Street to 106th Street to simplify the Upper West Side’s street-grid and to create New York’s longest linear pedestrian plaza. Above 106th Street, protected bike lanes and expanded sidewalks would be added all the way to 168th Street. In terms of phasing, below-ground improvements would happen first in order to allow complete access to the cut and cover tunnels for MTA construction vehicles. Pedestrianization projects and street improvements would happen afterward.
Black: No changes. Blue: Station Accessibility, New Entrance Projects. Green: Station Reconstructions
The primary focus of the subway portion of the Broadway Plan would be to install Communication-Based Train Control signals that allow for automatic train operations in the tunnels. This is the main priority as it’s the best short term approach to expand operating capacity, which present-day signal systems currently restrict. In order to reduce any potential impacts this project would have, it would be completed in 2 phases: from Union Square to Times Square, and from Times Square to 168th Street.
Phase 1 would be the easiest to accomplish because of this section’s short length and the good conditions of the stations in this area. The improvements needed are so little, in fact, that you wouldn’t need to halt service for significant periods of time, for outside of automated signals and structural repairs, the only essential improvements needed are elevators at 23rd and 28th Streets. Additionally, closed entrances at 28th Street Station leading to 29th Street and Broadway would be reopened for public use.
Phase 2, on the other hand, would be much more difficult because the section affected, in order to speed up renovation work, is much longer. The projects in this phase vary extensively, from tunnel renovations to complete station reconstructions.
Starting with station reconstructions, because this section pre-exists every subway line it connects with, local and express stations from Times Square to 96th Street are arranged in an odd pattern. For instance, while you can take an express train to Times Square-42nd Street, a transfer station with eight subway routes on 3 different lines, you can’t take one to Columbus Circle, a transfer station that not only serves four routes on an adjacent line, but also ranks in the top 10 in terms of station ridership. This example, in particular, has been on the city’s radar in the past, specifically when they proposed reconstructing it into an express station in 1953 to support the area’s redevelopment and the future New York Coliseum.
The Broadway Plan would resurrect this plan and reconstruct 59th Street into an express station. The benefits from this would be immediate. It would relieve crowding at Times Square and 72nd Street by allowing an extra transfer point between local and express trains, it would give 2 and 3 train riders a brand new transfer to the A, B, C, and D trains at Columbus Circle, and it would give more train service to an area that has become significantly built up in the last couple of decades.
At 72nd Street, riders would see several improvements, the most pressing being the widening of its platforms. Despite being an express station, 72nd Street’s platforms are only about 10 feet wide, a relic of when the surrounding area wasn’t yet heavily developed. While this may not have been a problem when it first opened, the resulting development boom caused by the station meant that there was already talk of widening the platforms only 20 years after it was built. Now, with subway ridership the highest its been in decades, this engineering fault has become the station’s biggest flaw and safety concern. With this in mind, the platforms would be widened to widths seen at other express station, which would significantly reduce crowding and expand the station’s capacity. As part of this project, the switches at 72nd Street would also be modified to eliminate the pocket tracks just outside the station.
Above 96th Street, new central entrances would be built in Broadway’s median at 103rd, 116th, and 157th Streets. At 103rd and 116th Streets the entrances would go from street level to each station’s mezzanine, closely mirroring the entrances as they existed when the stations first opened. At 157th Street, the entrance would go straight down to the platforms from a mezzanine at street level.
Wheelchair accessibility would be incorporated into each station in Phase 2’s coverage area that isn’t already accessible. This would be done through the above projects and accessibility projects at 50th, 79th, 86th, 110th, 125th, 137th, 145th, and 168th Streets. This would be done partially by relocating station entrances into buildings wherever possible. Additionally, this would allow new entrances to be built at several of these stations to reduce congestion at exits.
Because of Phase 2’s scale, disruptions would be significant. During renovation work, 1 trains from the Bronx would terminate at 168th Street, where riders would transfer to A and C trains. Meanwhile, 2 and 3 trains from the Bronx would terminate at 96th Street, while 2 and 3 trains from Brooklyn would terminate at Times Square after running local north of Chambers Street. There would be no service south of Chambers Street to South Ferry as 1 trains would not be able to operate downtown.
To compensate for these disruptions, above ground Broadway would be turned into a partial busway from 168th to 106th Streets. South of this, in preparation for pedestrianization, Broadway would be bus only, with shuttle buses terminating at Columbus Circle. While there would be no shuttle buses downtown, free out-of-system transfers would be installed at Cortlandt Street on the R and W trains to subway trains
at Fulton Street and the World Trade Center for Staten Island Ferry commuters. Additionally, crosstown bus routes along 145, 135th, 125th, and 116th Streets would see increased service and all-door boarding to accommodate 2 and 3 train riders wishing to transfer to subway lines above 96th Street, with turnstiles at 2 and 3 train stations above 96th being modified to allow up to 3 transfers per trip.
The centerpiece of the Broadway Plan would be the complete pedestrianization of Broadway from Union Square to 106th Street, creating a 5+ mile long linear plaza that, because of induced demand, would have no traffic consequences at all for the surrounding area (there may even be a traffic decrease). While more radical then simply pedestrianizing Broadway only in Midtown and the Flatiron District, the benefits would be extensive, and would vary based on where along Broadway you are.
Going from South to North, the areas where the plaza would have the most benefit are at Madison Square Park, Herald Square, Columbus Circle, Lincoln Center, 72nd Street, and 106th Street.
At Madison Square Park, the current pedestrian plaza between Broadway and 5th Avenue would be connected directly with the park, with a wide crosswalk connecting Broadway past 23rd Street. At Herald Square, 33rd Street would be turned back into a through street, with the pedestrian plaza between 6th Avenue and Broadway being connected to Broadway’s eastern sidewalk.
Because of its layout, Columbus Circle would see the most complex changes, starting with 60th Street. Because 60th Street’s westbound traffic is fed directly from Broadway, traffic would be reversed to flow towards Broadway to avoid making 60th a dead-end, with vehicles turning into Broadway’s southbound lanes to connect with the Columbus Circle. This would be one of only two instances of traffic lanes on Broadway being kept, with the other being at Lincoln Center. Because of the location of the 1, 2, and 3 trains under Columbus Circle, the new headhouse for the expanded station would be located on what is now Broadway’s northern lanes from Columbus Circle to 60th Street. The last change would be on Central Park West, which would be turned back into a two-way avenue from Columbus Circle to 62nd Street, in part to allow M10 buses to turn uptown via Columbus Circle (Its current terminus at 57th Street and Broadway would be inaccessible to vehicular traffic).
Moving uptown, at Lincoln Center, 64th Street would be connected directly to Columbus Avenue, with a wide crosswalk carrying pedestrian traffic on Broadway past 64th. Because Lincoln Center’s driveway is fed from Broadway, one southbound traffic lane would be kept connecting the driveway to 65th Street.
At 72nd Street, where Broadway’s northern lanes converge with Amsterdam Avenue, a curb extension would be built from the northeastern corner of Broadway and 71st Street to meet Amsterdam’s realigned traffic lanes. A wide crosswalk would connect Broadway to Verdi Square at 72nd Street.
At 106th Street, Broadway would be reopened again to vehicular traffic, with southbound traffic being directed onto West End Avenue and northbound traffic being fed from West End Avenue and 106th Street. From here to 168th Street, curbside protected bike lanes with bus stop Islands would be built, with medians being expanded at 116th and 157th Streets to accommodate new median subway entrances.
Because of the scale of Broadway’s pedestrianization, there would be bus reroutes for M5, M7, M104, and BxM2 buses that run along Broadway from 106th Street to Columbus Circle. The M104 bus would be rerouted via West End Avenue to 57th Street, where they would run to 8th and 7th Avenues and there current routes. M5, M7, and BxM2 buses would be rerouted onto Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues south of 72nd Street, and, like M104 buses, take 57th Street to there current routes.
So, this is the plan. It’s ambitious, transformative, and, from an engineering standpoint, easy to accomplish. At present time it would be difficult to do politically (the chances of Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo willingly working together at this point are the same as a team of archaeologists discovering unicorn fossils), but, with future political cooperation, it could be done. It’s a plan that would fix two subway lines under Broadway and create New York’s longest linear plaza or park (take that High Line!), and a plan that, as mentioned before, would have no traffic consequences for the surrounding area. To tie this back to the beginning, pedestrianizing Broadway in Midtown and the Flatiron District would be great, but fixing Broadway all the way through the Upper West Side would be even better.